IBM has announced what it has called "the largest expansion ever" of its Lotus software.

The company launched a series of new collaboration tools and revamps of existing software on the first day of its annual Lotusphere conference in Orlando, Florida. "We raided IBM Research and brought a lot of that into our products," said general manager at IBM Lotus, Mike Rhodin.

IBM is aiming at business users, drawing a distinction between social networking tools like wikis and blogging for individual users and the same kind of technologies transferred to a corporate setting. For businesses, security and integration are key factors influencing whether they'll use such software.

With that in mind, IBM introduced Lotus Connections, a combination of five integrated online tools - Profiles, Dogear, Communities, Activities and Blogs - to help companies provide their staff with more ways to work collaboratively.

Users can use the Profiles component to search for experts within their company on a particular topic and access a variety of information linked to that individual including blogs and bookmarks. Dogear is a bookmarking tool for tagging and sharing bookmarks, while Communities helps in the establishing of specific work groups and Activities provides a Web-based dashboard where users can work together on managing collaborative tasks.

IBM fully deployed all the pieces of Connections internally, using IBMers as guinea pigs, Rhodin said. Connections is due out in the second quarter of this year.

Also new is Lotus Quickr content-sharing software, a series of connectors into desktop applications such as Notes and Microsoft's Office, into operating systems like Microsoft's Windows and into repositories including those of Lotus Domino and WebSphere Portal.

A company can share content across its employees and has the option to widen the access to include its customers and partners. Quickr is due out before July. IBM then plans to have Quickr hook into its FileNet P8 enterprise content management software.

Updating existing products, IBM expects to ship the latest release of its Sametime instant messaging software in April. Sametime 7.5.1 includes tight connections to Microsoft's Office and Outlook applications, a real-time video component, support for the Macintosh operating system on the client side, and for Linux on the server side.

IBM also showed off its Lotus Notes and Domino 8 groupware offerings expected to enter public beta testing in February and ship in the middle of 2007. Among the new features are IBM Productivity Editors to help users to create, edit and save documents in the OpenDocument Format (ODF), a rival file format to what Microsoft uses.

IBM is also updating its portal software WebSphere Portal Express 6.0 targeting companies with less than 1,000 staff, or similarly sized departments within enterprises looking to set up their own online portals. The software includes document management, Web content management and prebuilt sample Web sites as well as the Lotus Component Designer 6.0 development tool and is available from 30 January. The portal software's starting price is $2,300 per 20-user pack with a limit of 1,000 registered users.

Rhodin was also at pains to stress that all's well with IBM's Lotus division, which has seen plenty of ups and downs since IBM acquired Lotus in 1995. "The business is very healthy and growth in Q4 was phenomenal," he said.